The Vice of Luxury

Economic Excess in a Consumer Age

David Cloutier

"[Cloutier's] clear writing style and engaging personal examples. . . reflect Cloutier's passion for making these timely debates as accessible to nonexperts as possible. "
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Luxury. The word alone conjures up visions of attractive, desirable lifestyle choices, yet luxury also faces criticism as a moral vice harmful to both the self and society. Engaging ideas from business, marketing, and economics, The Vice of Luxury takes on the challenging task of naming how much is too much in today's consumer-oriented society.

David Cloutier’s critique goes to the heart of a fundamental contradiction. Though overconsumption and materialism make us uneasy, they also seem inevitable in advanced economies. Current studies of economic ethics focus on the structural problems of poverty, of international trade, of workers' rights—but rarely, if ever, do such studies speak directly to the excesses of the wealthy, including the middle classes of advanced economies. Cloutier proposes a new approach to economic ethics that focuses attention on our everyday economic choices. He shows why luxury is a problem, explains how to identify what counts as the vice of luxury today, and develops an ethic of consumption that is grounded in Christian moral convictions.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Why Luxury?

Part One
1. Luxury in History: A Brief Survey
2. Neglected Vice: How Luxury Degrades Us, Our Work, and Our Communities
3. Neglected Sacramentality: Why Luxury Blocks a Spirituality of Our Material Goods
4. Neglecting Positionality: Why Luxury Does Not Necessarily Help the Economy

Part Two
5. Luxury Defined
6. Luxury and Social Context: Who Has More Than Enough?
7. Luxury and Necessity: What Is Enough?
8. Luxury and Sacrament: What Is Beyond Enough?

Conclusion: Resisting with Discipline, Responding with Hope



"[Cloutier's] clear writing style and engaging personal examples. . . reflect Cloutier's passion for making these timely debates as accessible to nonexperts as possible."—Horizons

"An achievement of the highest order . . . This book should find its way into the hands of anyone who is seriously concerned with Catholic social doctrine."—National Catholic Reporter

"Cloutier is a first-class intellectual who delves into the realm of ideas with ease and insight. . . . This review has not done Cloutier's book justice. His treatment of reciprocity and gratuitousness, the need for a morality that is intrinsic to our economic decision-making, and his detailed debunking of dominant economic ideology is so extraordinarily well done, I cannot recommend this book enough. It should not only change the conversation in Catholic social teaching circles, but represents a challenge, a thoughtful, precise challenge, to contemporary economics. Cloutier . . . has delivered a masterpiece of Catholic thought."—National Catholic Reporter

"Rises to the challenge of taking on a difficult and neglected topic. . . . Astonishingly thorough."—Catholic Books Review

"A must read for people who are dissatisfied with what they possess. Instead of seeking for more, and more satisfying consumption, this book suggests limiting and voluntary reduction of consumption."—Consumption Markets and Culture

"David Cloutier's insightful treatment of luxury is creative and prophetic, without the oversimplifications prevalent in much prophetic discourse today. Drawing on philosophy, economics, and theology, he traces the history of ideas about luxury in a manner both scholarly and accessible to a wide audience. A truly excellent volume that will challenge how most of us think about our own lives."—Daniel Rush Finn, Professor of Theology and Clemens Professor of Economics, St. John's University

"Drawing on history, economics, philosophy, and theology, Cloutier advances our understanding of luxury as a vice and aptly shows just how far most of us are from virtue. He makes a nuanced case not for voluntary poverty but for a prudential, relational, and sacramental approach to material things. This book is a game-changer."—Julie Hanlon Rubio, Professor of Christian Ethics, St. Louis University

"I highly recommend the book for Cloutier’s lucid style, engaging illustrations, and his original insights into the intersections between ethics and economics."—Journal of Religion

"It is difficult to do justice to the scope of Cloutier’s achievement."—Studies in Christian Ethics


Supplemental Materials


Commended for the 2016 CPA Book Award for Catholic Social Teaching of the Catholic Press Association, the 2016 PROSE Award in Theology and Religious Studies of the Association of American Publishers

About the Author

David Cloutier is associate professor at Mount Saint Mary's University. He is the author of Love, Reason, and God's Story: An Introduction to Catholic Sexual Ethics and editor of the blog

336 pp., 6 x 9
3 tables
ISBN: 978-1-62616-270-9
Dec 2015

336 pp., 6 x 9
3 tables
ISBN: 978-1-62616-256-3
Dec 2015

336 pp.
3 tables
ISBN: 978-1-62616-257-0
Dec 2015

Moral Traditions series
David Cloutier, Darlene Weaver, and Andrea Vicini, SJ

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